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How Bella Thorne disrupted incomes of thousands of OnlyFans sex workers

Ex-Disney star Bella Thorne is facing backlash after creating an OnlyFans link and completely destabilizing the way that sex workers are earning their incomes during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.  – Photo by Wikimedia Commons

The headlines were everywhere: Bella Thorne, ex-Disney star-turned-poet-turned-porn director, made $1 million on OnlyFans in a single day. 

If your Twitter feed isn’t filled with influencers promoting their OnlyFans links by posting sensual shots that tease their eager followers into clicking those links, you may have no idea what the website is about. 

OnlyFans is a popular content subscription service based in the United Kingdom. This social media platform has gained much popularity over the past year globally, as many adults of all genders have started to sell exclusive videos, photos and chances to chat one-on-one — including explicit sexual content — for viewers to purchase. Content creators on the website generate income from fans who subscribe to their content, tip them, or purchase content using the pay-per-view feature on the website.

Although the social media platform is not just for sex workers, this website has become a space for them to sell content in an age of free information and exploitation, in which websites like notoriously profit off of sex workers without compensating them fairly, if at all.

Sex workers became especially dependent on OnlyFans after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) affected working in person and the government didn’t offer any aid for them. Many OnlyFans creators are people that depend on that income to pay their rent, student loans or other bills. 

Cue Thorne, who entered the OnlyFans scene and made $2 million in two days.

Many of the articles written about Thorne’s OnlyFans debut have been relatively positive, and sure, to some extent it’s exciting that a woman can make so much money on a website, and it's doubly exciting that Thorne is such a versatile young woman. But this attitude toward Thorne’s success on the website is the type of “girl boss” feminism that doesn’t show the whole picture and often leaves the more vulnerable people out.

The problem isn’t confined to Thorne inserting herself into this space. The issue is that she misled fans into thinking that she would be selling nude photos, charging $200 for them, when in fact the photos were of the actress in lingerie. This lie would ultimately harm thousands of other sex workers while Thorne gets to walk away unscathed.

Since many felt that they were scammed after receiving a lingerie photo instead of a nude photo, they requested a refund from OnlyFans. This rapidly caused the website to lose massive amounts of money, since OnlyFans guarantees refunds if the content purchased was not the content promised. 

To prevent something like this from happening again, OnlyFans has since changed some very important features. The maximum amount for a pay-per-view message is now reduced to $50 and the maximum tip that someone can send has now been limited to $100. With the additional fees and taxes that are taken from these numbers, creators on OnlyFans don’t actually receive the full amount that others pay to view such content. 

But the worst part about the changes is that now, all the money creators make on OnlyFans is pending for 30 days — changing from the previously weekly paycheck that many creators had come to rely on, and seriously disrupting their finances. 

Many are frustrated with Thorne for single-handedly ruining the incomes of thousands, if not more, of content creators whose livelihoods depend on the website, when for Thorne this was just another way to make a quick buck (or a few million) and get even more attention. 

This incident also highlights how much of a problem celebrity culture is. Thorne, who already has an arguably high net worth (estimates vary from anywhere between $5 million and $12 million), decided to join the website to profit from a space where non-celebrities, who are much more vulnerable to financial issues, work for a living. 

This predatory behavior is not uncommon for celebrities — just look at the way that YouTube and Instagram has become a space almost impossible for non-celebrities to make a profit, and how quickly verified accounts and already famous celebrities have monetized these platforms in every sense of the word. 

Thorne has since apologized for her actions, but not without a few tweets explaining her perspective first. She tweeted that she wanted to destigmatize sex work by joining the website by becoming a public face involved in sex work. 

Although the apology is a start, it still doesn’t account for why she charged $200 for content — this high sum for a picture points to the fact that she had every intention of making money off of the website. It also doesn’t explain why she misled fans into thinking she would be nude. Also, why would Thorne want to work on a documentary explaining her experience with OnlyFans when there are countless others who would be better suited to interview and feature for such a project? In all, these actions don’t work to destigmatize sex work, but rather place herself in the limelight — again, allowing her to profit off of an already vulnerable community.

Overall, her “apology” mixed with her actions just really do not add up. Many are calling for Thorne to deactivate her OnlyFans account and to redistribute the profits to sex workers. 

It’s important to note that for the most part, the discussion on Thorne has nothing to do with her participating in sex work. By all means, go off Thorne! But the problem is that instead of making her income elsewhere — and she has pretty much limitless options with a blue check and a name for herself — she chose to do it on a website where thousands depend on this money, and then cause them to lose their financial stability.

Perhaps one day we can have a discussion on why people’s livelihoods depend on a website that they pretty much have no control over — after all, OnlyFans made the change to its platform without consulting any of the content creators on the website. Or we can have a discussion about why sex work needs to be destigmatized and decriminalized. Or we can have a discussion on why so many people sell content and what type of audience is interested in it. 

But for now, Thorne has made a major mistake, and sex workers everywhere are having to pay the price for it.

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